Beijing poised to take ‘de facto control’ of S. China Sea: Philippines
Beijing is poised to take “de facto control” of the South China Sea, the Philippines warned Sunday, but its call for a robust Southeast Asian response at a regional summit was shot down.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic body of water, but the mainland China authorities claim nearly all of it, and its increasingly strident territorial assertions have caused concern in the region and beyond.
“(Mainland China) is poised to consolidate de facto control of the South China Sea,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in Kuala Lumpur a day ahead of an annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN) summit.
He singled out a campaign of land reclamation on disputed reefs that has raised the specter of permanent Chinese bases far out in the sea from which it can enforce its sovereignty.
‘Stand up for what is right’
“Is it not time for ASEAN to say to our northern neighbor that what it is doing is wrong and that the massive reclamations must be immediately stopped?” del Rosario asked his fellow ministers.
“Is it not time for ASEAN to finally stand up for what is right?”
But summit host Malaysia later rejected the idea of a response that could antagonize mainland China.
“We must avoid any action that would be counter-productive and bring us further apart, either amongst ourselves, or with ( mainland) China,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said.
“I don’t think ASEAN would like to be given an ultimatum, and by the same token I don’t think China would like to be given an ultimatum.”
Faced with Beijing’s immense trade and diplomatic leverage, ASEAN has a history of failing to agree on strong responses over the issue on behalf of its members with disputed maritime claims.
Concern over mainland Chinese land reclamation was re-ignited this month by satellite photos showing huge amounts of sand being dredged and dumped onto fragile coral reefs claimed by the Philippines.
Defense analysts say some of the new islands will be big enough for airstrips and other large facilities, raising the specter of deepening mainland Chinese domination of a waterway rich in energy reserves, fishery resources, and a vital conduit for much of world trade.
A draft statement prepared before the gathering calls for “selfrestraint” at sea but avoids criticizing or even mentioning China by name, a diplomatic source said previously.
Anifah said “ASEAN memberstates want to see that this matter should be settled amicably,” and he suggested the mainland someday allow joint use of the artificial islands.